This is a question that I received via the website Quora.
I chose to reproduce the question here and add additional comments which were not included in my Quora response because I believe it addresses some important points.
It is an interesting question because it reflects a common misunderstanding about the relationship between one’s intellect, the thinking part of your brain (the cerebral cortex) and one’s emotions, the emotional part of a your brain (the Amygdala).
The misunderstanding is the belief that emotions are subordinate to, or controlled by, the intellect.
As readers of this blog, you know that the intellect and the emotions are both critical to the process of learning to master your emotions as tools.
The emotional cycle…
First, a quick review of the emotional cycle..
All of us constantly scan our surroundings for threat and when we perceive a threat, we automatically go into fight/flight/freeze mode.
The emotional process..
This is a primitive emotional process mediated through the Amygdala which humans have done since we lived on the Savannah. The process evolved to work quickly and without our having to think about it. The purpose of this scanning and preparation process was to insure our survival as a species.
Note: The speed and automatic nature of this process is the basis for people to believe that their emotions control them.
This is a myth in that the automatic emotional process only prepares one for action. It does not determine what one does beyond fight/flight/freeze.
The intellectual process..
As our brains developed more capacity to think and analyze (mediated through the Cerebral Cortex), we developed the ability to analyze our situation and choose the best adaptive response to the situation.
Hense, the emotional cycle involves an emotional reaction in which our emotions inform us through physical sensations in our bodies that a possible threat exists and prepare us for possible action and our intellect intervening to give us the opportunity to assess the situation and choose an adaptive reponse.
The intellect and the emotions are intimately interrelated.
The original question…
So, let’s dig a little deeper into this question.
It contains at least 3 underlying assumptions..
- There is some level of cognitive ability that can be labelled as “intellectually strong”
- There is an implied dichotomy between one’s intellectual abilities (however these are defined) and one’s capacity to deal with emotions. In other words, you are either emotional or you are intellectual.
- There is such a concept as “emotional weakness”.
Regarding the first assumption….
While we can measure a person’s intellect, and it is true that some people are more intelligent than others, the ability to master one’s emotions as tools does not require an exceptionally high intellectual ability. Consequently, as I see it, being “intellectually strong” is largely irrelevant in the context of dealing with one’s emotions.
Regarding the second assumption..
In the original Star Trek series, the character Mr. Spock, a Vulcan, prided himself on his ability to repress all of his emotions and make decisions solely on the basis of his intellectual ability to analyze the facts and make a decision.
Today, people still assume that they need to use their intellect to control their emotions.
Controlling one’s emotions both didn’t work out well for Spock when he had to deal with his human crew and doesn’t work today as emotions have a way of getting expressed unless we learn how to master the emotion by heeding its message and strategically using its energy to adaptively deal with the situation in which we find ourselves.
So, while you can force yourself not to outwardly express your emotions, the energy underlying your anger, sadness, or anxiety will express itself in some manner. This could involve passive-aggressive acting-out, physical symptoms, or anything else in-between.
This is where emotional mastery comes in. Mastery involves acknowledging the emotion and strategically deploying the energy of the emotion.
While you may choose not to outwardly express the emotion because you may expose yourself to too much risk, there is no control of or repressing the emotion.
Regarding the third assumption…
Unless one considers themself “weak” in their ability to get the most out of their cell phone, computer, table saw or TV remote (all of which are tools), I don’t believe there is such a “thing” as “emotional weakness”.
One is either capable of utilizing their tools and making them work as desired or they are not. In the latter case, they need to either read a manual or get some instruction.
It is the same with emotions because emotions are just tools!
So, given the above, because my questioner asked the question, his intellectual “strength” vis-a-vis his emotions, is more than up to the task.
The issue, then, becomes the extent to which one is able to master their emotions.
Based on the nature of this question, I assumed that the person who asked it has some doubts about his relationship to his emotions.
Note: The questioner is a male.
My recommendation to the questioner was that he consult the manual.
The information on this blog is the manual for emotions.
I also noted that the best way to access the information in the Blog was to click on the INDEX tab.
The Index gives him access (with one click) to all my posts by category, date and title.
I then suggested going to the Mastering Emotions as Tools section first, clicking on any title that grabbed his attention so that he could get his basic education about what emotions are, why we have them, and what emotional mastery involves.
He could then go to specific emotions such as anger and explore further.
You can do the same thing if these are issues that relate to you.